Shimer College

Stuart Patterson

I’ve been teaching at Shimer since 2004. I came from Washington, D.C. where I was working on my dissertation, which deals with race relations, utopian communities and communal memories in the U.S. between the 1930s and today. I still research and write on these topics, most recently in an article  for a recently published undergraduate textbook on the historiography of the social programs of the New Deal. Otherwise, I am working on an article examining the turn W.E.B. Du Bois’ made in the 1930s away from his long advocacy of racial integration. I have lately turned to researching the history of reading. This is the subject of a course for which I received a teaching grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities “enduring questions” program. The question of my course is “Why - and What - Should We Read?”


Associate Professor of Liberal Arts

In Brief

I’ve spent most of my teaching time embracing the joys of generalization.

Why Shimer?

All in all, teaching at Shimer has been an indulgence for me. But the real enjoyment comes from the fact that pretty much anything I can imagine doing, in class or out, will likely be in response to the amazing variety of interests and talents that Shimer’s students (and staff and other faculty) bring to our common work.


Ph.D., Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts Emory University, Atlanta, GA, 2006

B.A., Liberal Arts (Honors) St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM, 1992

Two years of study toward the BFA at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 1985 - 1987



I’ve taught every course in Shimer’s core curriculum. I’ve also taught a number of elective courses including on the history of economics, pragmatic philosophy, the history of reading and canon formation; studio art and art history. Regarding the latter, early in my time at Shimer I taught a course on murals that culminated in designing and painting a 700-square-foot outdoor mural for the public library in Waukegan, IL, Shimer’s home for about 30 years before we moved to Chicago ten years ago.

Research Interests

U.S. Social and Cultural History, especially the cultural geography of race; the poetics and sociology of museum displays; modern and contemporary art history, poetry, music; the economics of art; the history of economics and social welfare programs; the history of reading; pragmatic philosophy and its relation to public policy; women and minority representation in science

Other Interests

I’ve done my best to broaden my academic experience in part simply to try and keep up with the incredible array of interests among Shimer’s students. I’ve gotten to know students’ interests quite directly in leading Shimer’s program abroad in Oxford over the last eight years. I’ve set students up for one-on-one tutorials with Oxford’s incredible supply of experts in subjects as various as the history of stained glass, Plato on the afterlife, the lute (for performance), color theory, analytical philosophy, creative writing and neuroscience. In a somewhat related vein, I’ve been taking as much advantage as possible for the freedom we have at Shimer extracurricular events and programs for Shimer students and the school’s community in Chicago, including annual interactive programs on the rich history of Bronzeville (our neighborhood in south Chicago), “Read Outs” of banned books, a readers’ theaters based on Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business” and the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s and many other sundry one-off larks.

Research Activity

“Social Programs and the New Deal,” in The New Deal and Great Depression, University of Kentucky Press, forthcoming. Great Books, Great Art, Shimer NEH website (with Harold Stone), “Democratic Nostalgia: Arthurdale, West Virginia as a ‘Living Museum,’” in Local Museums and Local Histories, University of Illinois Press, 2006. “Figuring Space Out with Einstein and Picasso,” presented to the Association for Core Texts and Courses Annual Conference, Chicago, IL. Apr., 2006. Participant and Organizer, Pioneering Communities Celebrating New Deal Resettlement and Revisiting Minority Land Issues: Past, Present and Future Conference at Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL. Dec., 2004. “How to Build a Community: Lessons from the New Deal,” presented to the Greenbelt Library and Museum, Greenbelt, MD. Nov., 2002. “Utopia No Lasting State: Bloch and the Cumberland Homesteads” presented to “A Millennium of Utopias,” University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K. June, 1999. “Faces and Places for Science: the politics of representing science at the Smithsonian Institution,” presented to ILA Graduate Colloquium, Emory University, Atlanta, GA. Nov., 1998. “Benjamin and the Chinese Painter,” presented to “Real Estate: Transactions in Culture and Space,” Third Annual ILA Graduate Student Conference, Emory University, Atlanta, GA. March, 1998.

Awards and Honors

Most recently, I was honored with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to teach a course entitled ‘What and Why Do We Read?,’ which will examine the history of reading from ancient Greece to the present, and will look closely at the formation and uses of ‘canons,’ including Shimer’s own canon of required readings in its core curriculum.